Thundercats Episode 8: Sonic Swordplay

Bringing character to an exceptional sword through creative sound design.

When I first saw the ‘Sword of Hitanzo’ glowing a brilliant gold in episode 8 I knew it was going to need some special sounds. The stock sword ‘shing’ library samples were simply not going to cut it. This sword needed personality… it needed a voice (so to speak).

Using synthesis or any kind of digital source or processing was not going to work. This is a tool; hand forged metal. If ever a Thundercats episode needed to be grounded and naturalistic, this is the one. I would need to do some recording and my first instinct was to go a more musical route with it.

The cymbal company Zildjian makes a small thick instrument called the Zil-bel. It’s basically the bell section (raised center) of any cymbal, but slightly thicker which creates a very long ring out when you hit it. Here’s a particularly low budge video someone has made (you really can find anything on the internet these days, huh?) of what it sounds like when played with a drum stick. I’m a percussionist and if there’s one thing about drummers, we can never have to many drums (or toy instruments that can attach to a drumset… like a Zil-Bel) so I happen to own one of these silly things. That was a good start.

Next I decided the Zil-Bel as sword effect would be best if I played it with a cello bow (which I also happen to have. I know, it’s a sickness.) Bowing the side of a cymbal is a technique I had used in percussion ensemble back in the day so it wasn’t a total shot in the dark. Still I hadn’t tried it on the Zil-Bel. Great news, the results were pretty cool! It totally had the personality of a cool sword ring out and depending on how fast or slow I bowed, I could get some pretty cool performances out of it.

“Bowed Zil-Bel”
iPhone or iPad? click here

Another technique I liked was hitting the Zil-Bel with the wooden part of the bow (AKA col-legno for all my music savvy peeps). The impact of the hit didn’t work well, but the resulting reverberations off the Zil-Bel were fantastic. A quick decapitation in Pro-Tools and some normalization was all it needed. Lots of character to work with here.

“Zil-Bel Ring Out”
iPhone or iPad? click here

Just for fun, I also tried bowing a drinking glass and a soda can. The glass sounded ok, the can not so much.

From here on, it was just a bunch of creative editing and pitching to create a library of expressive sounds.

Unsolicited advice: Any time you build a library entirely from scratch like this, it’s very important to stay super organized or you could easily lose some great pieces (or your mind). However, worrying too much about the organization factor can definitely hinder the creative process when you’re in the moment of making all these cool sounds. What I like to do is work in stages. For instance, I would take all my raw recordings, line them up into pleasing groups on one track (i.e. bowed Bel, Bel rings, special effects, etc all grouped somewhat next to each other) and then copy everything down to a second track before moving on. I then mute the first track and feel safe to start editing on track 2. Once I have clean edits of all the sounds, I will then copy that entire track down to a third track before processing. Mute track two, etc, etc… This way, every stage of your creative process is safe and saved. Should you go off in the totally wrong direction with it (and run out of Undo levels), you only need to go back one stage. It sounds silly, but it is very easy to just start going nuts on one piece of audio and the next thing you know all you have is 200 rendered clips of random tangents (kind of like this paragraph)! Incidentally, this process is also very helpful if you happen to be writing a sound blog.

As a cool bonus, some of the sounds I ended up messing around with which did not work well for the sword of Hitanzo ended up in the sword competition scene (the one that features all of the crazy swords). Possibly some good pieces there for future Sound Off posts.

As always, thanks for listening for what sounds like Jeff.

Creative Toolkit:

  • Recorded Zil-Bel Samples
  • Serato Pitch ‘n Time
  • Digidesign EQ3
This week’s image by Amin Tabrizi.
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One thought on “Thundercats Episode 8: Sonic Swordplay

  1. Pingback: Radio Silence | Sounds Like Jeff

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